It happened the day before my graduation. I had invited my parents over from homeland to join me in the celebration, and I took them out for a nice lunch at a locally renowned restaurant. I chose the place because I enjoyed their services in every occasion I dined there in the past and I thought my parents would be pleased as well. As I called to make a reservation, they politely suggested we come at an early time. Hmm, I thought, but my father rather appreciated the idea, so I said nothing.
When we arrived, there were very few other customers before us. Many open seats to choose from. I expected to be seated at a table where I have been many times before, where we could admire the atmosphere of the entire place. But they courteously guided us to a table by the window, furthest away and hidden from the entrance. Wait a minute now, I thought, but my mother was rather delighted by the ocean view, so I said nothing.
They served us in a very quiet and orderly fashion throughout. No recommended dishes of the day off the menu, no bits of explanation on the local significance of the food we ordered, or any other services they usually offer without my asking. Hang on here, I thought, but my parents were rather impressed with their refined manner, so I said nothing.
Maybe I could have pointed out to the restaurant staff that the service they offered to us Asians only customers was not the same as that offered to Asian customers who come with their White friends.
Maybe I could have told my parents that, although very subtle, we were clearly being discriminated against.
But I found no meaning in wasting my energy getting upset at a restaurant I will never again visit, and ruining a perfectly nice outing my parents thought they were having. So, I handled the situation very diplomatically – I kindly smiled to everyone but said nothing.
Years later, it happened as I was traveling with my brother to a couple of Western countries. One night he chose a Bib Gourmand restaurant to dine in. Knowing the nature of such places (priced at locally economic standards, probably less experienced with having tourists), I called to make a reservation in their language, and they politely suggested we could come at any time we wished and they would have a table ready for us. We appreciated the idea. Fantstique, j’ai dit.
When we arrived, the place was very crowded but a few seats were still open in the area for serving foreigners. I expected to be seated there because they probably had staff who were especially trained to serve foreigners. But they courteously guided us to a table in the middle of the area for serving locals, where we could admire the atmosphere of the whole place. We were delighted by the view. Quelle bonne surprise, j’ai dit.
They served us in a very hearty and friendly fashion throughout. Lots of recommended dishes off the menu, with elaborate explanation on what the food means in their culture, and seeing the attentive service the staff were giving us, even the other local customers joined in to help us order. We were impressed by the lively manner. Merci beaucoup pour une soirée inoubliable, j’ai dit.
Maybe the restaurant staff found no point in serving us any differently simply because we were Asians only customers, because we approached them just like any of their White customers do.
Maybe discrimination still clearly existed against other foreign customers, but very obviously not against us.
I still do not see to this date what it is I did differently in these two occasions. But I do see that my expectation was very discriminative: I expected to be treated the same in the former, and differently in the latter. I see a need to first increase my immunity to discrimination within me. If I can achieve impartiality with my expectations, my kind smiles to everyone will become truly diplomatic – something that not only relieves stress for the moment but contributes toward building a lasting good relation.
That’s the kind of “diplomatic immunity” I would like to exercise.